The LB Podcast Blog
Every year, International Women's Day falls on March 8th. Why this date, you ask? Well, that depends on which timeline you subscribe to. Officially, the first International Women's Day was on March 19th of 1911 in Germany. That date was selected to mark the original proclamation by the King of Prussia back in 1848, in which he promised reforms (spoiler alert: he didn't keep those promises). Some claim that International Women's Day began as a protest by women garment workers back on March 8th, 1857 in New York, but historians have refuted that claim as a myth.
Since its early days, International Women's Day has grown into a worldwide movement of sorts, spawning other causes and initiatives in the furthering of women's rights around the world. However, there are still a number of very serious issues that remain, such as global inequality, the pay gap, high rates of sexual assault and femicide, widespread discrimination against trans and disabled women, an egregious lack of funding for women's shelters, and the ever-present pervasiveness of rape culture, among other things.
Now, I know that as a cisgender heterosexual male who speaks English as his first language, I am speaking about this issue from a pillar of privilege. I will never fully understand what any of this means in real world terms, or in terms of lived experience. But I still have questions about the spirit of International Women's Day, and if it is really doing enough good considering all of the bad things that are still out there marginalizing women from all walks of life.
Take the official theme of this year's International Women's Day. On the IWD website, it describes the "Each for Equal" theme like this:
"The IWD 2020 campaign theme is drawn from a notion of 'Collective Individualism.'We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.
Collectively, we can make change happen. Collectively, we can each help to create a gender equal world."
Well if you look up what 'indvidualism' is about, some definitions that immediately come up are: 'a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control'; 'the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant'; and 'a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount'.
Now I know I'm getting into minutia here with my dissection of the definitions here, but as is the case in all social movements and in world politics in general, words matter. If we really want to advance women's rights and equality, is the right way to do so through individualism and the rejection of the state? Governments need to be involved in setting the tone for human rights through legislation. It should not be up to individuals alone to carry the torch on this issue.
Although I understand that we have to come together as individuals to push for change, we still need to be able to rely on the systems put in place to keep us all safe. When those systems let us down, we should not be forced to make up the difference. They need to be held accountable and to a higher standard. My hope for 2020 is that women's rights are taken more seriously by governments around the world, and they take action, rather than simply giving us empty platitudes, only to then renege on their promises.
In the meantime, times are desperate. Women in Mexico are planning a nationwide walkout to protest lack of action on femicide in their country (there were more than 4,000 murders last year alone). Trans women and sex workers in North America are still being murdered every day, simply because of who they are. Women everywhere still have to fear being raped or killed on the street and in their homes, and in most cases because men still feel entitled to have access to their bodies. Yet compounding the problem is the fact that women are, even in the 21st Century, grossly underrepresented in government and in business.
Meanwhile, capitalism has co-opted the message by slapping its branding all over the place. You can't spend more than 5 minutes on social media without seeing corporations hopping on the bandwagon, purporting to support women's rights, while exploiting their labour, limiting maternity leave, and lobbying anti-choice politicians. Even media organizations seem to have lost the plot. The Guardian is facing criticism for its treatment of trans issues, some of it among its own staff. So I think it's long past time that we stop with the performative allyship that seems to have taken over movements lately, and get involved with organizations that are actually walking the talk.
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